Jerome Rothenberg has been writing for more than forty years. His first book of translations, New Young German Poets, was published in 1959. Translations from this 1959 collection make up the first section of Writing Through: Translations and Variations. Such important German poets as Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger are included. Writing Through is divided into three sections: “Translating the New,” “Translating the Old,” and “Otherings and Variations.” In addition to the German poets, the first section includes such unique poetic voices as Tristan Tzara, Hans Arp, Pablo Neruda, Vicente Huidobro, Kurt Schwitters, and the artist Pablo Picasso. It is always fascinating to observe how a translator approaches the text that he wishes to transform into another language. Some translators take a quite literal approach to the task at hand and leave no room for inspiration. Rothenberg, being a poet himself, reaches for the spirit of the original work. It can be said, though, that a translated work has two authors. On occasion, a translator will even create something that seemingly has no connection to the original.
In the second section, Rothenberg includes translations from such collections as Technicians of the Sacred (1968), Shaking the Pumpkin (1972), and A Big Jewish Book (1977). In these translations, Rothenberg poignantly captures the spirit of both Native American and Hebrew works. It cannot be avoided though that his translations of the sacred texts have the mark of a contemporary sensibility. With this in mind, the reader can still relish in the encounter with these fragile texts. For the final section, Rothenberg has grouped together a number of his own poems that were inspired by the reading and deciphering of several non-English speaking poets. The poems of this section are truly nothing less than lively experiments and innovative excursions. Writing Through is a wonderful overview of Rothenberg’s career as a translator and as a poet who has been greatly influenced by many cultural sources.